By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The Hawaii County Council passed a resolution authorizing the taking of a public access easement to the Papaikou Mill beach.
Eighty-two testifiers, beginning shortly after 9 a.m. and continuing until almost 4 p.m., commented on the resolution and an unrelated geothermal bill, among several other items. The vote to approve the resolution, on the first item of the 12-page agenda, came shortly before 6 p.m.
The vote was 7-1, with Councilman Donald Ikeda dissenting and Councilman Fred Blas off-island to attend to a personal matter.
Final approval will require one more vote by the County Council, likely at its meeting on Nov. 21. But council members hope the vote will force the landowners and those who use the beach to come to an agreement before that.
Before the vote, Charlene Prickett, who owns the land along with her husband Jim Waugh, told the council that “a local management group is forming” that would open beach access between dawn and dusk. She said the park was in much better condition than when she first saw it as 1995 as “a trash-strewn haven for drug dealers and vandals.” She cited a petition of 21 nearby landowners in opposition to the resolution, while some on the other side cited a petition with 5,400 signatures in favor of it.
Prickett also spoke of making special arrangements to allow fishermen onto the property after dark.
Testimony was divided, as it has in the past, on whether the county should acquire the parcel, but those in support of the resolution were in the majority of those present at the meeting.
Supporters of the resolution, distinguished by their red palaka armbands, asked the council members ensure beach access for future generations. Those in favor included younger surfers and beachgoers, and older kamaaina who remember fishing and swimming down at the mill site many years ago.
Those against the resolution also included surfers and beachgoers of all ages, and neighbors of Waugh and Prickett, many of whom have bought property within the last 20 years, who defended the landowners are the true caretakers of the land because they have maintained the site despite the efforts of unnamed people who have left trash at the site.
Both sides told the council that the government’s acquisition of private property for shoreline access was unprecedented as far as they knew, but they split on whether that was a positive thing.
“As a family we would go down to the beach and share family memories together,” said Emily Dudley, speaking in favor of the resolution. “We’ve all been going to the beach since we were children. … Restricting Papaikou Beach is restricting a gem from its people and its residence.”
“I support the resolution of the county to take eminent domain of the trail,” Dudley said.
“Will you condone bully tactics?” asked Jeff Sacco, who asked a series of rhetorical questions poking holes in the logic behind the resolution. “What really is the council’s agenda here?”
Prickett and Waugh have proposed an alternate beach access that begins on land owned by their neighbor Steve Shropshire, who has not endorsed that idea.
“All we want is an easement on her property,” said Kalani Lyman, a leading proponent of the resolution. “The minimum to go down and practice our culture.”
Councilwoman Brittany Smart said she had originally thought that eminent domain was not the right way to go. Then she learned about a state law, Hawaii Revised Statutes 115-2, which states that “the various counties shall purchase land for public rights-of-way to the shorelines, the sea, and inland recreational areas, and for public transit corridors where topography is such that safe transit does not exist.”
But as other council members took up the measure, it became clear that they were leery about authorizing eminent domain except as a last resort, and some did not seem convinced that it had reached that point.
“The last thing I can’t stand doing is rushing into things,” Councilman J Yoshimoto said.
“I really believe this can be solved peacefully. I don’t think this should be done by eminent domain,” Ikeda said.
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.